The Shuttered Venue Operator Grants: Where Did The Money Go?
Why isn’t the money going to the right places? In Los Angeles, a lot of small venues like the Satellite, the Bootleg, the House of Machines, the Hi-Hat, and a few others have either closed down or have been acquired by new owners, and their future as music venues is unknown. Why haven’t these venues received the help they were supposed to? According to many sources, the funding promised by the federal government (a total of $16 billion) is nowhere to be seen for many of these venues. NIVA, which raised nearly $2 million in their ‘Save Our Stages’ initiative, got the support of Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Cornyn as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the SVOG (Shuttered Venue Operator Grants) was established. However, according to Time Magazine, the SVOG ‘has only handed out $720 million dollars, or about 4.5% of its $16 billion budget.’ Only 2,390 recipients, out of the 15,000 venue owners who have applied, have received federal help. Why? You really have to wonder why this is still the case many months later.
The grant mimics the way money is distributed everywhere: the bigger the company, the more money it receives. For example, ‘Hamilton,’ the Broadway production along with four tour productions, could receive up to $50 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. The article says that the musical ‘has been playing to a full house since it opened in 2015, and millions have seen it.’ Doesn’t it mean that the company should have had the resources to sustain a year of lockdown? The production made millions and should have been safe with good management. I don’t mean it should not have received any help but if $50M were available for ‘Hamilton,’ the Satellite could have received 100K maybe? But they didn’t get anything…
The data for the SVOG grants were made available here and surprisingly, almost nobody is taking a close look at the distribution of the money. In California, around $2.5 M were attributed to the Regent Theater, a venue now owned by Live Nation, the biggest concert promoter in the world? No need to read their Wikipedia page to know they don’t need any help, they also own Ticketmaster.
When the grant was announced, it was clearly said that large corporate players such as Live Nation and AEG would not eligible to receive SVOG grants and that they would be reserved for applications with up to 50 full-time employees.
James Nederlander, Inc received $10M in Los Angeles and $10M in New York, but again, far from being a small company, they are the largest operators of live theaters and music venues in the United States, they operate Broadway shows and they own theaters all over the country. They used to manage the Greek Theater here in LA, but it is now a joint venture with Live Nation.
Jujamcyn Theaters LLC, which operates St James Theater in New York where Iman just saw Bruce Springsteen, also received $10M.
The Shuttered Venue Operator Grants attribution really worked in mysterious ways: why did the Lodge Room in Highland Park receive $1.6M and the Bootleg theater nothing? ‘We got a PPP loan but we didn’t get SVOG, and I don’t know any others who did. It’s so disheartening. The bill passed last year. We all expected to have that money by now and be able to go back to operating and rehiring,’ Bootleg talent buyer Kyle Wilkerson told the LA Times. I would like to understand why.
I just googled the names of some of the companies awarded with the grant, and plenty of them are definitively bigger than businesses with 50 full-time employees. If I was able to see some flagrant flaws in the money distribution, I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. As usual, only the rich get richer.